If you know you need to get your meal plan organized, my free monthly meal planner printable is just what you need to save hundreds of dollars and hours of time at the grocery store!
Keep reading to learn HOW to meal plan for an entire month.
Meal planning is the single most important component of any grocery budget, no matter how big or small. If you want to stick to your food budget, you have to have a meal plan.
Thing is, it’s possible to meal plan all wrong! There’s a little more to it than writing a dinner menu that sounds good for the week and buying the ingredients.
When I first started meal planning, it was just my husband and me. When our twins started eating solid foods, I had no idea how drastically their needs would affect my meal planning tactics!
Our grocery expenses exploded.
I had to get serious about revising our grocery strategy, because what I had been doing stopped working. After months of trial and error honing my skills, we finally brought back the food budget to a reasonable amount.
And after a few more months, I found ways to reduce our grocery expenses even more significantly (like 50%!), while still eating high quality, healthy food.
(It’s a total myth that you can’t eat well on a budget, so if that’s music to your ears, keep reading!)
When my own “Operation Grocery Budget” first began I wish someone would have told me that it doesn’t work to simply copy and paste someone else’s shopping list, or find a coupon for every single item or to be superwoman and cook from scratch three times a day!
So instead of telling you to use this one plan (because everyone’s grocery list will look a little different), I want to show you how to make a 30 day meal plan and give you a monthly meal planner from my own playbook that you can adapt according your own family’s needs and preferences.
Let me tell ya, meal planning for the month is going to save you money, but it will also save you TIME! Prepare to get back hours of free time and never wonder “what’s for dinner?”
It’s easy to feel like we don’t have time for anything because life is so demanding and can get overwhelming.
I try to be conscious of how much money I’m saving in exchange for my time, so that I can make the most of my money-saving efforts and get back to living life!
My friend, meal planning is time WELL spent. By using a monthly meal planner and following the steps to implement it, you’ll save yourself hundreds of dollars in a measly 30 minutes.
Worth it? I think yes!
Here are the five keys to making a successful, money-saving meal plan that will let you eat well and save hundreds of dollars, not to mention hours of valuable time.
Confession: I used to plan meals to the day. Like every single meal was planned out in painstaking detail.
I figured the more specific, the better. But when I had a hard day and didn’t want to cook from scratch, or when the bag of spinach was prematurely wilting and I had to come up with an alternate plan, it would throw off my entire plan and I would feel so defeated.
And then I’d order pizza.
Now I work with a flexible meal rotation. I plan 13 or so meals plus a weekly leftover night. Each meal is made twice in the month. The following month I’ll keep a few staples in the mix and try some new or resurrected recipes.
And if I planned for spaghetti but want tacos that night, I’ll just switch it. Monthly meal planning gives you freedom to go with the flow.
As far as what to include on your menu, I always go for a handful of easy favorites that don’t require lots of special ingredients. Special ingredients equal more money spent for no additional nutrition.
My children are currently obsessed with sloppy joes and since they’re picky about meat, it’s one of the few ways to get them enough protein. So until sloppy joes become as overplayed as Hillsong’s Oceans, it will remain on the bi-weekly menu.
Other meals like lasagnas, soups, and casseroles are more of a seasonal thing for me. There’s nothing I love more than a bowl of steaming chili in the winter, but I much prefer a cobb salad in the summer.
And don’t forget about keeping some convenient pre-made stuff on hand. When chicken tenders went on sale for $1.99 a pound, I stocked up!
Keeping a reasonably sized stash of convenience foods is an “insurance policy” for sticking to your monthly meal plan and avoiding the take-out line.
Point is, you don’t need to start with tons of variety or make every single thing from scratch. Use your meal planner to keep a list of simple favorite go-to meals, and incorporate those into your first two-week meal rotation.
Remember, you’re not making it more than twice in month, so it’ll be awhile before you tire of it.
And as seasons change, your menu will adapt, and you’ll end up with an even better recipe repertoire than before you started monthly meal planning
The part of meal planning for more than a week that I could never figure out was how to plan when the sales change from week to week.
Then I started thinking of my monthly meal planner like a space for an outline instead of a detailed architectural blueprint.
For example, we love stir-fry, but I don’t want to buy two cups of sugar snap peas at $2.99 a pound just for that one recipe.
Stir-fry is the perfect example of a flexible dinner staple because you can use any variety of meat and whatever veggies you have on-hand.
Just last night I made stir-fry and used up the remnants of two different sauces, a wilting bell pepper, a lonely zucchini, a leftover chopped onion, and a head broccoli that I had completely forgotten about.
Before, I wouldn’t have thought to rummage through the veggie crisper to see what treasures laid stored in its corners. I would have looked at a recipe, gone to the store to buy a specific list of ingredients, made dinner, and thrown out a sad bunch of abandoned vegetables three days later.
As for meals like sloppy joes, I can pair it with a salad and some oven-baked “fries.” Sweet potato or russet? Answer: whatever is cheaper that week.
If you’ve been reading my food posts for awhile, then you might have heard I’m a huge fan of Zaycon Fresh. Love it! I can’t get meat for cheaper, and I trust the quality.
The caveat is you have to buy A LOT of it at once, like 40 lbs. I usually find a friend to split the order with and freeze it, because 20 lbs is still a good amount and I don’t have an extra freezer. But I digress…
Apart from buying and freezing meat when it’s at rock-bottom prices, non-perishables are the other item to stock up on. Cans of soup, seasoning packets or jars (e.g. taco and ranch seasoning which we pretty much consume by the gallon), rice, dried beans, and even chocolate chips.
All of these are way cheaper in bulk, as long as you actually use them. Don’t buy cream of mushroom soup just because it’s on sale if you hate casseroles with cream of mushroom soup.
Only buy things in bulk that make sense for your family.
Some of my friends can get by with twice a month shopping.
Honestly, I don’t know how they do it. I’m happy for them, but I can’t seem to manage that feat without yogurt spoiling and bananas browning. Maybe it’s a climate thing, I don’t know.
For me, it works well if I shop for produce and other perishables weekly.
That way I don’t feel pressure to get extras I might not need or fail to use before they go bad, because I know that I only have to wait a few more days before the next grocery store run.
The good news is that weekly trips to the store are quick. It’s just to pick up almond milk, fruit, fresh veggies, and anything else we happen to be out of, so it’s not a long errand.
I feel this is also advantageous because I can shop according to each weekly sale cycle and make better use of odds-and-ends in the fridge.
With weekly shopping, we get a lot of variety for snacks and lunch options, and I still leave with money in my wallet.
And since you’re using a monthly meal planner printable to map out your shopping, you can go ahead and stock up on all your non-perishables and on-sale cuts of meat one time at the beginning of the month.
Because there are only 13-14 recipes to make, you basically double up on your ingredient list, saving overall time at the grocery store and preventing multiple shopping trips for unplanned items.
No one else’s meal plan will look exactly like yours, but if you follow this framework for your monthly meal planning, your savings will soar, dinner time will be stress free, and you’ll finally be able to stick to your food budget!
Swipe my free meal planner printable packhere.